Content warning: this article contains mentions of distressing anti-trans violence.
For the first time in the country’s history, Brazil has elected two trans women to be sent to the national congress, a big win for the country’s trans community.
Brazilians have been voting for their new president, with the winner to be decided in a final run-off. The candidates are Jair Bolsonaro – the current anti-LGBTQ+ president in Brazil – and the left wing politician Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The final round of the election will take place on October 30th.
Two trans women were elected in Brazil
Brazilian voters were successful in sending two trans women to the national congress, the Congresso Nacional. This is the first time in the history of Brazil that trans women were elected to such office. In further good news, two Indigenous women were also voted to congress. This will provide a voice for Brazil’s Indigenous communities who have been suffering under Bolsonaro’s regime. Indigenous peoples in Brazil have been faced with increased violence, threats to their rights, and tightening government funding.
The new members of congress are Erika Hilton, a Black trans woman who campaigned for better education, social housing, and LGBTQ+ rights, and Duda Salabert, a trans woman and member of the Democratic Labor Party. In a social media post, Salabert stated that she was the first trans person to be elected by the National Congress and also the ‘most voted Federal Deputy’ in the history of the state of Minas Gerais. They are both committed to fighting for the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil.
‘We are going to get off the street corners, we are going to get out of jails, we are going to get off crack corners and prostitution and start to think about public policies’, Hilton promised. This statement is extremely important, given the large amount of trans people who work as sex workers in the country, one of Brazil’s most at-risk groups. A 2021 report confirmed that out of the trans people who were killed last year and whose occupation is known, 58% were sex workers.
Both Hilton and Salabert have already reported receiving death threats during their campaigns. They are two out of 324 out LGBTQ+ candidates who ran during this year’s election in Brazil. Out of the hundreds of candidates, only 18 won their election, including Hilton and Salabert.
Challenging Brazil’s LGBT+ hostile President
The current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has been in this position of power since he was elected in 2018. He initially presented himself as a member of the Social Liberal Party, then later turned conservative. He has made numerous statements against the LGBTQ+ community over the years and has previously also claimed to be a ‘proud homophobe’.
In 2002, he said that if he saw two men kissing in public, he would beat them – a statement that he continues to stand by. In 2011, he stated that he would rather his son die in an accident than be gay. Last year, Bolsonaro also made fun of LGBTQ+ rights demonstrators in his WhatsApp messages.
Violence against trans people in Brazil
Brazil continues to experience serious issues with violence against trans people. While anti-trans discrimination has been included as a crime in Brazil’s legislation since 2019, the country was reported to have the largest number of anti-trans killings in the world, a toxic status that is has held for over a decade.
According to the Trans Respect 2021 report, last year was the ‘deadliest year for trans and gender diverse people’ since they started collecting the data. There have been an astonishing 375 anti-trans murders between October 2020 and September 2021. This number increased by 7% since 2020, which had also already increased by 6% from the previous year’s update.
Brazil remained the country with the largest number of killings, reporting 125 anti-trans murders. Mexico and the United States placed second and third in the ranking. This violence is predominantly experienced by trans women and trans feminine people as they made up 96% of the victims. Overall, 70% of the murders in the collected data took place in Central and South America, with a third (33%) happening in Brazil. There is also an issue of race and intersectionality within these anti-trans killings. Most of the victims in Brazil are people of colour, specifically Black trans people.
These are only the cases that get reported and therefore that we know of; inevitably there will be numerous anti-trans killings that are not included in all this data.
The coordinator of the Trans Studies Magazine and the Brazilian Institute of Transmasculinities (IBRAT), Kaio de Souza Lemos, explained to Brasil de Fato that the lack of police reports makes transphobia an ‘invisible crime’ in Brazil. The government in Brasilia needs to acknowledge the country’s violence against trans people instead of silencing their voices and disregarding their deaths.
Hope for a better future
Activists are challenging the increased violence in Brazil against trans people, with trans women being beaten, shot and even thrown out of a building. Many cases are mishandled by authorities, while trans people are misgendered and deadnamed in police records and media reports. This hostile environment has led to many deaths remaining unreported.
With the horrific violence and discrimination queer and trans people have had to face under President Bolsonaro, it is time for a change. The two elected trans women will hopefully bring some much needed support to the LGBTQ+ community living in Brazil, and will come to represent the first momentum in a wave of change.